The Tall Grass

Before he died, my father spent a year in the woods, mingling less and less with others the deeper into the woods God invited him to go. He folded dress socks into squares. He stared into cabinets. He drove to faraway places looking for convenience marts and lawn and garden stores, and the police were called to find him.

“I want to describe God,” my father said.

“Whitewash the chicken house to keep it attractive,” the cops said. "Have the wheelwright fix the wagons or break up the bodies for kindling."

My father nodded. Order and discipline. He held out his wrists for cuffing.

“Sirs,” he said.

My mother asked me to spend a week with her and my father to assess his condition and decide what might be next. He and I watched sports on television and said little to each other.

“Nothing new around here,” I joked.

My father stared over the surface of me. He wondered whose car was parked in his driveway.

“Sugar, that’s your son’s car,” my mother said. “You know that.”  

“Which is a son?” he said.

The hospice administrator asked us: any preference on nurses?

My father looked at my mother. Then he whispered into the seashell of her ear: “Blondes.”

Once my father wore pajamas and no shoes. It was December. It didn’t matter. The air was the color of driveway salt, but the tall grass was new and green, and my father could see the last patches of it advancing ahead.

God appeared as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Follow,” He said.

My father was well beyond the village now, past the woods, making the impenetrable motions in the air that he’d recently started making. Hook shot. Hook shot. Switch hands. Hook shot. He'd been all-conference basketball.

“Why didn't anyone else learn the Sky Hook?” my father asked Kareem.

Kareem turned. He looked at my father.

"No one else learned the Sky Hook because no one else asked to learn the Sky Hook," He said.

My father nodded. Overcome with emotion. This moment of perseverance. It was the kind of question that had bothered my father all his life like a dent in a car door. He had been a man of absolutes and common-sense solutions. He had always known that the right courses of action were obvious. It was just a matter of will.

“What about Magic?” my father asked Kareem.

Kareem held my father’s face in His hands. This was it.

“Earvin?” He said. “Earvin asked.”

And there where the last patch of soft grass ended my barefoot father and God stopped walking. They raised their chins. Their jaws chattered. Strange and heavenly sounds vibrated from their throats.

Bird Report

June 5. Scarlet Tanager in the mulberry and then the upper branches of an oak. Back from winter in South America. Glows red as a Christmas bulb in all that green.